Though it was somewhat buried by the clamor of the UFC 151 fiasco, earlier this week, former UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar announced that he was leaving the 155-pound weight class to become a featherweight. When a premiere MMA fighter decides to change weight classes, it's usually for one of two reasons: to undergo a career rejuvenation and get a fresh start amidst new surroundings, or because the move is likely to yield stylistic advantages.
At this particular juncture in Edgar's career, the swap portends more risk than reward and I think it's a mistake.
Let's start with the first common thrust for changing weight classes, which is the fresh start. Unsurprisingly, this is usually initiated on the heels of consecutive defeats and/or disappointing performances. Ben Henderson, who dethroned Edgar at UFC 144 and then defended the belt successfully in the rematch at UFC 150, fully accounts for the consecutive losses part of that equation.
However, it's a little harsh to deem Edgar's performances in those two matches as disappointing. I realize that issue is purely subjective and that many are hopping aboard the trendy "point-fighting" bandwagon to justify their discontent, but I don't understand that line of thinking at all. Of his 14 career fights, Edgar has 3 submissions and TKOs apiece for a 42% finishing ratio. For comparison, out of former top contender Gray Maynard's 12 career outings, he has just 2 wins via TKO (only 1 in the Octagon) and 9 decisions for a ghastly 18% finishing rate.
Maynard hasn't finished a fight since TKOing Joe Veres at UFC Fight Night 11 in 2007 and the only bout that wasn't decided by the judges in his ten fights since then was a TKO loss to Edgar, the "point-fighter," at UFC 136. Doesn't that allow, in all fairness, for Gray Maynard to be lambasted as a "point-fighter" as well?
Beyond individual interpretation of Edgar's fighting style, even his most aggrieved critics should be able to agree that Edgar has the potential to beat Henderson and once again assume the role of the #1 lightweight and UFC champion. If that's still inconceivable, everyone should at least assent that Edgar has continuously proven he can compete with the best 155-pounders in the world. Both decision losses to Henderson were competitive, contentious and Edgar's first tastes of defeat since his first loss in 2008.
And since April of 2010, Edgar has either been the champion (#1 lightweight) or top contender (#2 lightweight) in each and every fight (6 total). For any athlete in any sport, cementing yourself as the undisputed best or second best on the planet in your respective department means you're doing something really, really right -- and "if it ain't broken, don't fix it."
After the jump, we'll take a look at the second thrust for dropping weight and analyze how Edgar's combat mechanics will be (negatively) affected by the plunge to featherweight.
Continued in the full entry.
Now, specific to fighting style, let's lay out the general pluses and minuses of dropping to a lower weight class populated by smaller but speedier athletes. Those two categories are size/strength (expected increase and advantage) and quickness/agility (expected decline due to the increase in average speed). That means it's safe to assume that Edgar should be able to enforce a little more power and physicality but the blinding quickness of his hands and footwork will be, to some degree, diminished.
When you envision Frankie Edgar's true core competency, the essence that defines his fighting style, do you think of him overpowering and muscling opponents around or out-finessing them with technical movement and attack patterns? The answer is obvious, as Edgar's dexterity is altogether unparalleled at lightweight. In fact, if forced to isolate one asset that's been the most integral to his success, it'd be his dizzying and cerebral motion.
That means that the drop to 145 will depreciate Edgar's most trustworthy attributes and endow him with a potential gain in an area he doesn't really excel in or rely on. To address this, Edgar could fall back on altering his style to impose more of his enhanced size and strength, but that's not changing a weight class -- it's becoming a completely different fighter.
And the kicker is that, even as a smaller and quicker lightweight, Edgar has been overpowered exactly once in his career, which was in his first encounter with Maynard. Edgar held his own against "The Bully" and Henderson in their latest encounters and posed more of a takedown threat than they did. How could such an anomaly arise? That a tiny lightweight could reap the advantages of his size without suffering the disadvantages by being rag-dolled by larger opponents? Quickness. Speed. Agility. All qualities that won't stand out as much among the faster featherweights.
I'll close with three more subtle repercussions. The first is that Edgar is heralded as a master strategist. The best laid plans are utterly useless without the tools and horsepower to execute, and Edgar's foot and hand speed make up the gist of those key resources. Secondly, venturing into a new weight class is like a Get Out of Jail Free card, and Edgar won't have that card to play in the future; a vital recourse should he ever under-perform or incur a handful of losses.
Finally, the pressure on Edgar will be enormous. He won't be considered any ol' prospect in the featherweight division but, rather, he'll be held to a ridiculously lofty standard. Anything other than mowing down a few top-10ers, earning a title shot against Jose Aldo and establishing himself as at least the #2 hitman in the class -- like he's already done at lightweight -- will be received as a failure.
Thus are the risks and, in my opinion, they certainly outweigh the reward.